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Branding Wars: Sports Marketing Pros Give Their Picks for Best NY6 School Brands

Each of the NY6 schools have done great work over the years building their respective brands — but which program does it better?

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Photo credit: NY6

The six biggest college football bowl games of the year, which fall around the start of the New Year, are known as the New Year’s Six — or NY6 — for short. In recent years, these games have also become home to the College Football Playoff Semifinals on top of being high-profile matchups between several of the nation’s top programs.

The winners will ultimately be decided on December 29 and January 1 in what will hopefully be entertaining games. In the buildup, football experts will give their picks for who they believe will turn in a stronger day on the field. Each of these programs have done great work over the years building their respective brands when it comes to how fans, recruits, and media members perceive the program — but which program does it better?

Using the matchups from this year’s games, branding experts from around the sports world discussed who they think wins in a battle of the brands. 

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl (Atlanta): Michigan vs. Florida

Ashley DeWalt – Founder, Managing Principal of LVRG Sports: “I’m going with Michigan here based on the quality of content across their social channels leading up to the bowl game. They are really doing a great job of highlighting their program accolades right now.”

David Meltzer – CEO and Co-Founder, Sports 1 Marketing: “Between the two, I’m definitely choosing Michigan, especially considering Florida’s head-coach carousel in recent years. While it pains me to admit as an Ohio State fan, Harbaugh leveraged the “M” brand to new heights with the way he carries himself as a coach and how he recruits. While Michigan may not have achieved some of the successes of his Stanford teams, Harbaugh is helping to expand the attention on Michigan football among sports fans far and wide. And with the retirement of Urban Meyer, there is even more opportunity for Harbaugh to seize.”

Christopher Stoney – Creative Director, Alliance of American Football: “I’m going to give it to the Gators. I think what Kelly Streeter has done at Florida just absolutely captures what it’s like to be at the swamp. Their creative team does a beautiful job with the black and white, along with using orange and blue highlights — a color scheme that just absolutely jumps off to me — and they’ve done a really good job incorporating these triangles, which are kind of meant to emulate the look of the gator teeth and the scales. I love what they’re doing.”

Geoffrey Blosat – Sports Operations Analyst, Zoomph: “Michigan over Florida. Bigger coach, bigger story in the news week after week, and bigger presence online.”

Capital One Orange Bowl (Miami Gardens, Fla.): Alabama vs. Oklahoma

DeWalt: “Between these two, it’s a toss-up from a branding perspective. Both programs create engaging content across their respective social channels. However, leading up to the Orange Bowl, I’m going to pick the Sooners because they have a lot of momentum from all the success their program is achieving, whether it’s the coach, individual player or team. No doubt, the Sooners’ creative team is really pushing great content across their digital and social channels while ensuring the brand messaging is consistent.”

READ MORE: Inside the Event Management Playbook for College Football Bowl Games

Meltzer: “Alabama. Traditionally speaking, it’s easy to make the argument that the University of Oklahoma is one of the biggest and most storied brands in college sports history and has had back-to-back Heisman winners in Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray to support that. Nick Saban has completely changed the perception of Alabama football in recent years, however, as a football factory chock-full of top recruits and as a perennial national-title contender during his tenure.”

Stoney: “I’m going to say Oklahoma. When I look through their content, I see plenty of scroll-stopping things that I just absolutely love. ‘Boomer Sooner’ is strong. Alabama is great too, but Oklahoma is going to edge them out just barely in this instance.”

Blosat: “Alabama over Oklahoma. A decade of dominance as a team, combined with how #RollTide is just embedded into every football fan’s mind, beats the school with the last two Heisman winners.”

Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic (Arlington, Tex.): Clemson vs. Notre Dame

DeWalt: “My pick is Clemson. The creative team at Clemson is one of the best, if not the best, in college football. The content they are putting out is awesome. However, I do like the fact that Notre Dame is showing what they’re doing in the community for kids with their Christmas shopping event through their social channels, despite preparing for a huge bowl game.”

Meltzer: “Notre Dame. While Clemson has been extremely successful in recent years thanks to the leadership of Dabo Swinney, Notre Dame possesses, arguably, one of the strongest brands in college sports. Thriving as an independent school, Notre Dame has a historic legacy of success, combined with the attention of Catholics worldwide. That makes their brand unique in college football, as well as the leadership of Brian Kelly.”

Stoney: “I’m going to say Notre Dame. I think Clemson is probably the top of the list for almost everybody, but the reason I’m picking Notre Dame is that the school is probably one of the harder brands to design for and to build a brand around because they’re such a traditional school with so many traditional values. To build a brand around an old-school tradition is really hard to do, and I think that they’ve absolutely done that. When I see anything from Notre Dame, it feels very ‘Notre Dame.'”

Blosat: “Notre Dame over Clemson. As powerful as Clemson is, Notre Dame has the legacy factor. While Clemson has arguably a stronger digital brand and social presence, as a brand, ND comes out on top.”

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl (Glendale, Ariz.): UCF vs. LSU

DeWalt: “I’m going with LSU on this one based upon the sheer amount of players they are able to highlight right now in the NFL. Their program is doing a great job of highlighting this leading up the bowl game.”

Meltzer: “While UCF is another fast-rising brand, it is hard to argue against the SEC powerhouse that is LSU. LSU’s fanbase is rabid (and blows UCF attendance numbers out of the water), their roster is full of future NFL talent, and the brand dominates the state of Louisiana, not facing the competition that UCF faces from other top programs such as Florida and Florida State.”

Stoney: “I am going to have to give it to the Knights. Their history is very recent, so there’s nothing to really draw on in terms of building a traditional branding look. And so the Knights have instead embraced that with a new look and a new culture, a new Nike contract — and they’ve just taken all that and run with it. Gold and black are also some tough colors to work with and they’ve crafted them into a beautiful, creative, eye-catching look.”

Blosat: “LSU over UCF. Two words: Coach O. While UCF has made a great case over the last two years, until they get more nationally televised games, they’ll be a step behind the big schools regardless of the wins and quality tweets.”

Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual (Pasadena, Calif.): Ohio State vs. Washington

DeWalt: “Ohio State is my pick on this. They have one of the most consistent brands and messaging in college football, and have been creating compelling content to engage their fans for years now.”

Meltzer: “Ohio State definitely has a bigger brand; they call it ‘The Ohio State’ for a reason. Although there has been some scandals associated with the school in recent years, Ohio State always ranks among the top schools in attendance and is perennially a Big Ten championship contender. Combining that with the talent OSU sends to the NFL and a massive alumni base, Ohio State is one of the most consistently strong brands in college football.”

Stoney: “Sam Silverman at Ohio State is just at the top of his game. There’s nobody doing it better than Ohio State right now in terms of having an old-school tradition. And I think Ohio State is probably leading the pack in their charge. It’s unbelievable how creative and fun they’ve been with their typograhy and their numbers.”

Blosat: “Ohio State over Washington. Unless it’s USC, any Pac-12 school will struggle in a brand-vs.-brand matchup, especially against a Big Ten powerhouse and perennial title contender with a polarizing coach.”

Allstate Sugar Bowl (New Orleans, La.): Georgia vs. Texas

DeWalt: “Both of the programs are very consistent in their brand strategy and messaging, but I have to give the nod to the UT because they are mixing in a bit of everything right now, from content about their graduates to players getting invites to the Senior Bowl and current NFL players. They are taking advantage of the branding opportunities right now.”

READ MORE: Inside the Meteoric Rise of College Football Bowl Games

Meltzer: “Texas. Historically, Texas has had a bigger brand than the Georgia Bulldogs, and part of that is due to the larger alumni base of the school, as well as the football-obsessed population in Texas. I think that Georgia definitely is one of the fastest-rising football brands, with coach Kirby Smart closely modeling successes of Alabama football, and could overtake Texas if the program continues to excel in the SEC.”

Stoney: “Matt Lange at Texas is one of the strongest designers in college football, hands down. He started incorporating a lot more white space and this sandy grit-texture style into it. It really feels like Texas, which is one of the most iconic brands in all of sports. Matt and his whole team on the design/digital side have just done a phenomenal job.”

Blosat: “Texas over Georgia. Probably the closest matchup in terms of brand vs. brand. They’re always back, year after year, and will never not be in the news. Landing the Player of the Year (Jake Smith) as a recruit doesn’t hurt either.”

Joe is currently a freelance marketing professional, writer, and podcaster. His work can also be found on the SB Nation network. Joe earned his bachelor's degree in communications from the University of Louisville in 2014 and a master's degree in sport administration from Seattle University in 2017. He can be reached via email at joe@frntofficesport.com.

Marketing

Inside The Huddle: Monetizable Social Assets With Jonah Ballow

Ballow reminds aspiring digital professionals that the real key to creating monetizable assets is simple, in theory: make good, unique content.

Front Office Sports

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In the buildup to the first of Front Office Sports’ Huddle Series on February 22, we’re introducing you to the huddle leaders who will be lending their expertise to the conversation.

Today, meet Jonah Ballow, VP of Digital at MKTG. He will be one of the leaders of the huddle “Making Money on Social: Creating and Delivering Monetizable Assets.”

A Colorado native, Ballow is a 2004 graduate of the University of Kansas, where he studied broadcast journalism and had, what he describes, as the thrill of a lifetime doing radio play-by-play for Jayhawks basketball games. On top of that, KU professors instilled in him the importance of building an online audience for any team or brand.

This set Ballow on a career path that included several jobs as a reporter and web producer for radio stations in Kansas and Missouri before bringing him to the NBA. Ballow joined the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2008 as a web editor, overseeing the organization’s web and social presence while playing a major role in all of their content creation efforts.

READ MORE: Inside the Huddle: Talking Paid Social With Angela Welchert

Ballow recalls a formative experience as a social media professional that came during his time with the Timberwolves. Capitalizing on the viral popularity of a clip of Kevin Love and Wesley Johnson failing to shake hands after a free throw, he showcased his agility as a creator with a comedic “investigative report” on what went wrong on the handshake.

The video was picked up by media outlets like NBA.com and ESPN, and quickly generated well over a million views.

“When all the major networks picked it up on their sites,” Ballow remembers, “a light bulb went off. I saw that the future was going to consist of teams making these original pieces of content with players who want to see themselves in that light.”

After nearly four years with the Timberwolves, Ballow moved on to the New York Knicks where he was the director of digital for six and a half years. Eight months ago, Ballow joined on with MKTG in a role that, to him, feels like a culmination of all of his past experiences.

“Being at MKTG and getting to work with different brands outside of basketball has been good for me,” he says. “I get to utilize the knowledge I gained with sponsorship integration and monetizing content, and bring brands onto the next platforms, while showing these brands how you can create original content that’s branded in a way where it can be used as a revenue stream.”

With over a decade of experience in digital media, Ballow finds that being quick on his feet — which helped him shine in his first big role in Minnesota — is still a key trait for a social media professional to have today.

“Everybody likes to be an ‘expert’ in this space. But just be nimble and be flexible,” Ballow stated. “Social is about trends and it’s moving at such a rapid pace that you can’t be stuck on one way of doing things or creating content. This also means keeping your eyes open for storylines and being able to create content quickly to act on them.”

On top of creating content quickly, Ballow reminds aspiring digital professionals that the real key to creating monetizable assets is simple, in theory: make good, unique content.

“The biggest thing I hope to achieve is originality. Whether it be original content or branded content, what we see in the best case studies of successful social campaigns is that at the heart of it, they are all built around really good content. Work out those other aspects of your strategy later.”

Being a leader of digital teams within the sport industry since the early days of his career, Ballow has learned that the most important aspect of leading a strong team is setting a positive example in content creation, as well as collaborating with other creatives.

“I think you have to really invest in your employees and the people around you and show them you’re going to work as hard or harder than anybody else. They’ll look to mirror that type of work ethic, and also show them respect and that you care about their lives and what they’re doing. The most important part about leadership is collaborating. Listen to other people’s thoughts and listen to what they bring to the table and from there, you can really decide on what the best course of action is.”

Meet Ballow and hear more of his thoughts on the current digital landscape at the Front Office Sports Digital Media Huddle presented by Opendorse in New York on February 22. For tickets and additional info, click here.

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How Toyota Forged Its Place in the ‘Can’t-Miss’ Super Bowl of Midget Racing

For the last few years, Toyota has backed 10 percent of the 300-plus drivers attempting to race their way into the A-main on the final night of racing.

Kraig Doremus

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Photo via TeeJay Crawford

It’s the Super Bowl of midget racing, known as the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals — or, more simply, the Chili Bowl. For five days, the Tulsa Expo Raceway, a quarter-mile clay oval inside of the Tulsa Expo Center, becomes home to some of the best midget racers in the country.

The 2019 event, which took place this past week, is a big one for Toyota, as the manufacturer had 37 competitors with TRD-powered engines on the entry list and has now had a driver win the A-main each of the past five years. This year, it was Toyota’s Christopher Bell who captured his third consecutive win.

“The Chili Bowl is hard to describe as you’re essentially racing under a dome,” said Toyota Racing Development President David Wilson. “The entry list is continuing to grow each year, and the spectacle has gone well beyond just a race in the middle of winter to become a can’t-miss event.”

Toyota has continued to build its support of the event, this year powering 37 drivers across 14 teams. Over the past several Chili Bowls, Toyota has backed nearly 10 percent of the 300-plus drivers attempting to race their way into the A-main on the final night of racing.

READ MORE: How NASCAR Stays Up to Speed in the Ever-Changing Digital Space

“We’ve had quite a record the past few years,” noted Wilson. “Having powered so many cars and having several with a Toyota engine in the A-main shows that there is a high demand for our engines. It’s flattering, but it’s truly all about the great partnerships that we have.”

One of those partnerships is with Keith Kunz Motorsports (KKM). Kunz hosted the KKM Giveback Classic at Millbridge Speedway to give one lucky driver the chance to compete in the Chili Bowl in one of his midget cars. It was the opportunity of a lifetime for the 140 drivers that were on the entry list.

“Jeremy and Ashley Burnett (who run Millbridge) came up with the idea of the race,” said Kunz. “There are kids and families out there that just don’t have the money to keep advancing up the ladder and buy a ride, so we came up with this idea at about 1 a.m. one morning. Toyota was all-in and we put on a great race.”

The format was standard for an outlaw kart race with qualifying and heat races to determine who advances to the main event. Jesse Colwell won the event and raced in the Chili Bowl for the first time in one of Kunz’s machines.

“Winning the KKM Giveback Classic would’ve been a great opportunity for any racer in the nation,” Colwell said. “Word spread quickly about the race, and soon it was the topic everywhere on social media, at the racetrack, etcetera. The ride on the line was what made the race so talked-about and unique. It was the only thing racers talked about.”

To prepare for the Chili Bowl, Colwell used iRacing, a popular sim platform among racers and even fans.

“I spent time on the iRacing Chili Bowl, which I feel doesn’t hurt. iRacing is a great learning tool, and I think turning laps on that might have prepared me more than ever for the Chili Bowl.”

Christopher Bell, who drives for Toyota team Joe Gibbs Racing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, won the Chili Bowl in 2017 and 2018, joining Kevin Swindell and Rico Abreu as the only drivers to win two consecutive Chili Bowls. This year, he became a three-time winner with a pass on Larson in the closing laps of the A-main.

To Bell, the Chili Bowl is more than a race — it’s a unique event that he looks forward to every year.

“Each race grows with history, and this race has a ton of history,” he said. “The caliber of drivers and the caliber of the winners is incredible. The Chili Bowl just has such a following of die-hards. We don’t have that in very many other events. At the Chili Bowl, those die-hards, they love it and they love it just as much as I do. Having those people here adds to the atmosphere.”

Bell and Kyle Larson, who grew up dirt racing, both place winning the Chili Bowl as bigger than winning NASCAR’s Daytona 500. Larson, although he doesn’t pilot a Toyota in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, drives for a TRD-powered team, KKM, for the Chili Bowl.

Said Bell about the Chili Bowl compared to the Daytona 500: “For me, personally, because of my background in motorsports and growing up in Oklahoma, the Chili Bowl — that’s what motorsports stands for to me. That was my marquis event whenever I was growing up. It was everything. I didn’t even know as a young kid at four or five years old; I didn’t know about the Daytona 500 or the Indy 500. I knew the Chili Bowl, and that was the top of my pedestal.”

Regarding Larson, although he drives for another manufacturer in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, his midget car is powered by Toyota for the Chili Bowl.

“We’re respectful to circumstances and situations,” said Wilson. “Kyle came up through the ranks with Keith (Kunz) driving Toyota midgets but circumstances didn’t work out later on that he could continue his Toyota relationship. Kyle’s love for dirt racing is huge. His intention is to continue throughout his entire career. We are happy to make accommodations for him if he wants to run a Toyota-powered midget.”

The Chili Bowl is not simply filled with male drivers. In fact, Toyota had three females in the field, including Holley Hollan, who was the youngest driver on the entry list. Hollan knows that despite being the youngest driver at the Chili Bowl, that she serves as role model for female drivers.

“I feel that Toyota has put me in a perfect position to be a positive role model to young and upcoming females in our sport,” Hollan said. “Being a figure on and off the track for youth to look up to has always been a goal of mine. Inspiring others to pursue their dreams while I’m living mine.”

READ MORE: Inside the Formation of NASCAR’s Analytics and Insights Department

Hollan drove for KKM and was the highest-finishing female in the 2019 Chili Bowl after advancing to the D-Main. She even had the chance to race against her dad, which was a bucket-list item for the young driver.

“He has truly been my biggest role model from the start. I raced head-to-head with him at Southern Illinois in late 2018. That night, he won the race as well as the POWRi National Championship. It doesn’t get much better than that. I believe that if you want to be the best, you have to race with the best. I’ll always enjoy the laps I get to turn with my dad.”

For Toyota, the goal moving forward with the Chili Bowl is to continue advancing cars to the A-main and winning the event, which is essentially a one-off race, a season of its own.

“It’s a one-race season, and ultimately our goal is to be able to continue partnering with the best teams and advancing as many TRD entries into the A-main and putting our drivers in positions to win that race,” said Wilson.

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Natty Light’s Super Bowl Moment

This year, Natural Light is giving 70 individuals the chance to pay down their student loan debt as part of their campaign around the Super Bowl.

Adam White

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Photo via Natty Light

*This piece first appeared in the Front Office Sports Newsletter. Subscribe today and get the news before anyone else. 

With the Super Bowl two weeks away, brands from most industries are looking to take advantage of the marketing opportunities surrounding the most-watched television broadcast in the U.S.

This year, Anheuser-Busch is going big for the big game. Part of their Super Bowl marketing blitz includes airing a local Natural Light Super Bowl ad in 5 of the top 10 cities hit hardest by student loan debt.

We caught up with Daniel Blake, Senior Director of Value Brands for Anheuser-Busch, to see why the brand decided to give away another $1,000,000 to help over 70 individuals pay down their student loan debt as well as how the campaign plays into the overall brand strategy for Natty Light.

On Natty’s Super Bowl approach…
“Super Bowl is a unique opportunity to talk to people, to engage with people. The Natural Light local SB spot is geared towards our core audience, students and graduates who are experiencing first-hand the gravity of student loan debt. Staying true to our fans is core to what Natty is as a brand, so it makes total sense that we talk to 21+ young adults about issues that impact their lives.”

On why sports are important to the brand…
“Sports are a big part of that, and we know from experience that our fans appreciate when we bring sports-related content and experiences into their daily lives. Our Race Resume program is the perfect example of this. In September 2018, Natural Light had the chance to create a paint scheme for Chris Buescher and the #37 car at the South Point 400 in Las Vegas. That paint scheme happened to be the resume and headshot of an aspiring motorsports journalist, Briar Starr. Briar won the contest we held to be featured on the car. It was a really innovative way to combine two topics that our fans are passionate about and it got a very positive response.”

Disruption is in Natty’s blood…
“We are always showing up in the places that are important to our fans. This will be the first of many sports moment where you’ll see Natty doing something fun and disruptive this year.”

*This piece first appeared in the Front Office Sports Newsletter. Subscribe today and get the news before anyone else. 

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